Chain saw mill guide: Understand Your Chainsaw Milling | Granberg International

Understand Your Chainsaw Milling | Granberg International

If you’re wondering what chainsaw milling is, it’s cutting logs into planks using a frame mounted on your chainsaw. It’s an excellent way to turn unwanted logs into something useful, and it can save you a lot of money compared to a bandsaw or contracting with a wood processor.

When people say chainsaws are dangerous, they aren’t kidding around. It can be a daunting task for beginners. But don’t worry; this will be your guide to help you start chainsaw milling and avoid common mistakes.

Understand your chainsaw

To operate a chainsaw mill, you must be familiar with the basics of using a chainsaw. This includes knowing how to operate the saw and perform basic maintenance.

Understand your mill and milling needs

There are different types of mills on the market today, and the right one for your needs may not be immediately obvious. There are a number of factors that will determine which mill is right for you, including the size of log you want to mill, the relative power of your chain saw, and what the intended use for the finished wood product will be. For instance, you would want to use one style of mill if you are processing logs for building a cabin, and a different style of mill to make a slab table to put in the cabin.

Each mill is different in size and shape, but they share certain similarities. For example, all mills require a saw carriage and rails (or guide boards), and all milling should be done with specialty chain, known as ripping chain, that is fundamentally different than the chain you would use for felling a tree.

Set up your mill

Make sure you have chosen the right size mill for your project. Then make sure that you have set it up to be safe while in use.

Use your mill

Always remember safety first. Never use a chainsaw mill without first wearing proper safety gear such as a hard hat, goggles, face shield, and ear protection. Do not use this machine without training or supervision!

Choosing the right chainsaw mill

Before you buy your chainsaws, you should consider a few things.

Saw size and power

Probably the most significant deciding factor in the mill you buy and, more importantly, what you will be able to do with it. Your standard chainsaw designed with a homeowner in mind will typically only have enough power to mill logs in the 18-20 inch range. Do not expect to mill a 6-foot diameter tree with an off-the-shelf electric saw. Conversely, if you are the proud owner of a professional-grade feller’s harvesting saw, it is going to be very cumbersome to mill a 12-inch trunk. Granberg staff are always happy to answer any questions you have, and we never want to sell you something you can’t use, so if you want guidance to match you with the best mill for your needs, please do not hesitate to call.


Finally, think about how much money you want to spend on your new chainsaw milling machine. You can head over to your local box store and buy a chainsaw, but whether or not that saw will be suitable for chainsaw milling is a different question. As a general rule, the larger and more powerful the chainsaw, the heftier the price tag will be. You should consider what the biggest work you want to do will be, determine what saw is best equipped to handle that work, and see if you are willing to make that investment. If not, it may be necessary to reevaluate your ambitions.

Learn about essential milling accessories

While chainsaw milling is a straightforward process, you’ll need to learn about the different accessories available to get the most out of your chainsaw mill. Many accessories are available today, each designed to improve your milling experience and make things easier for you.

Let’s take a look at some of the essential chainsaw milling accessories:

Ripping Chain

While not, strictly speaking, an ABSOLUTE requirement, your cuts will take less time and need less finishing if you’re using a Granberg ripping chain. There is really no substitute for having the right tool for the job.

First Cut Guides

The first cut is the most important for any milling project, since all cuts you make after that are going to follow the same line, and if you make a mistake, it will be replicated in all cuts you make afterward. Making an error in your first cut can also impact how your lumber will dry, and whether/how much it will warp or crack during that process. You do not necessarily need to buy a Granberg product to do this job, but you do need to have a plan in place before you start milling.

Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill

The industry leader for good reason! Our line of chainsaw milling products can fit bars from 18-84 inches, and can be used alone or together to make any of your lumbermaking dreams come true.


As you can see, there is a lot of information for anyone who wishes to use a chainsaw mill. There are many different types of chainsaws, and each one is made for specific applications. The information above should help a person who lacks experience in chainsaw milling to understand more about this unique form of working with wood. If you are a beginner, start slow, ask lots of questions and, as always, make safety your top priority.

If you want to learn more about chainsaw milling and know more about quality chainsaw milling. Find out more by visiting the FAQ section our website, call our toll free number 800-233-6499, or email us at

Chainsaw Milling 101 — NEWTON MAKES

I have been milling logs for a few years now.  When I first decided to try it, I watched a ton of videos to learn how to do it and to figure out what gear I needed.  I thought that this article and accompanying video might help people who are thinking about jumping into the chainsaw milling game.  If you are considering it, do it because it’s a lot of fun!

What is Alaskan chainsaw milling?

It’s the act of cutting trees into slabs or boards so they can be used for building things.  One of the most enjoyable aspects for me is the saving of the tree.  I do urban logging, meaning that I’m milling trees that are cut in someone’s yard.  Every day trees are cut down and then turned into firewood or mulch.  This gives me the opportunity to save that tree and turn it into something beautiful.

Equipment that you need


The most critical tool is obviously a chainsaw.   In the world of chainsaw milling, the more powerful the saw the better.  You can mill with a smaller saw; however, it’s going to be really slow.  On average, it takes me about 10-15 minutes to make one cut using my saw, based on the size logs that I typically cut.  Expect that a smaller saw will cut slower.  I use a Stihl 661 professional grade saw and love it. It’s an absolute workhorse.

Chainsaw bar and chain:

The bar is the part of the saw that sticks out and holds the chain.  Each saw has a recommended maximum bar length so check your saw’s manufacturer for their guidelines.  I’ve seen people exceed these recommendations so they aren’t a hard and fast rule.  The length is often based on the amount of bar oil your saw can support.  The saw lubricates the chain and bar so that they doesn’t overheat.  The longer the bar, the more lubrication it will need.  If your saw can’t support oiling, then you risk overheating.  To get around it, some millers will add an extra oil pump to their setup.

I use a 36 inch bar on my saw.  If you are just starting out in milling, know that the size of the bar will not be the size of the log that you can mill.  Some space will be taken up by the mill itself.  More on that later.  While milling, I refill the gas and the bar oil after each cut.  It’s common for me to go through almost as much oil as gas; I adjusted my saw so that it spits out as much oil as allowed because milling is really taxing on a saw.

As far as chain goes, I use a ripping chain for milling. Ripping chain has teeth cut at a certain angle, allowing it to cut faster horizontally with the grain.  It tends to give a smoother cut too.  You can use a regular chain if you want, but ripping chain will save you a lot of time.

Saw mill:

You don’t want to free hand it when making slabs; you’ll want to use a saw mill.  There are a ton of brands/options out there.  Doing a quick search for “Alaskan saw mill” will show you a several choices.   It’s really more important to consider the features of the mill.  You want a mill that fits the length of your bar.  Most mills are adjustable along the length of the bar.  For example, I use a Granberg International MKIV chainsaw mill.  I can make the cutting length shorter if I use a smaller bar, or I can make it as long as 32”.  The mill will clamp directly onto the bar, but you have to leave room at the tip of the bar so the sprocket can spin freely.

You will also want a mill that is easily adjustable in height.  Do you want to cut your slabs 2 inches thick? If so, how long does it take to adjust the mill to 2 inches?  I generally cut slabs at 2.5”, occasionally cutting some thinner or thicker if I need a specific thickness for a project.

Guide rails:

The first cut requires guide rails attached to your log.  I’ll discuss that more in a minute. Guide rails provide a flat surface for your mill to slide across when making your first cut.   These can be manufactured or you can make your own.  A section of an extension ladder is commonly used as guide rails.  In my case, I used some 2x4s that I jointed and planed to ensure that they were flat. 

Safety gear:

Safety gear is critical because there is an increased chance of injury when chainsaw milling, and I don’t just mean cutting your leg off.  Running a saw at full throttle for 15 minutes produces a lot of dust, wood chips, and fumes.  It is very easy to feel nauseated if not wearing a mask.  I like to use a respirator, but I recommend using the mask that you will most likely continue to wear.  If you hate wearing it, then you’ll make excuses not to wear it.  Along those same lines, wear hearing protection and either safety glasses or a face shield.  Your ears and eyes will thank you.

I also wear chainsaw chaps and gloves.  These are designed to help stop the chain by unraveling when they are cut, binding the chain and forcing it to stop.   Plus, they make the milling process more comfortable.  I’m often on my knees when milling and it’s nice having that extra padding.


There are some extra things that are going to be really helpful when you mill.  Have a chainsaw wrench with you.  You’ll need it to tighten or replace your chain. You’ll also need wedges.  These don’t have to be expensive or fancy.  I have some manufactured ones, but I’ve also used some made from 2x4s.  You may want to bring a hand file with you so you can hand sharpen your chain.  I also recommend a log peavey or cant hook.  They will allow you roll the log over to find the best way to cut it.

How to mill

The first cut

Maneuver the log into the position that you want.  I like to look the log over and determine how I can get the coolest looking grain.  I also see what side seems to have the flattest surface.  If there are any branches or lumps sticking up, I may buzz those off with the saw before attaching my guide rails.

I set the guide rails on the log, using a level across multiple areas to ensure that the ladder isn’t twisted. The flatter the first cut, the better results you’ll get from the rest of your cuts.  I then screw my rails into the log using lag bolts.  I bring different length bolts with me just in case they’re needed. I screw in a few bolts in various areas of the ladder and ensure that it is still flat and doesn’t move.

The first cut has to ride across the guide rails.  Set your mill so that the saw will cut under the bolts. You definitely do not want to hit those when cutting.  This first cut usually goes quickly since you aren’t removing much wood.

The rest of the cuts

Remove the rails and top slab so you can start slabbing up your log.  Set your mill to the thickness that you want.  Again, I like to cut my slabs at 2.5 inches.  This is obvious, but remember that the thicker you cut them the heavier they will be.  Make sure you have a way to move them.  

All subsequent cuts do not require the rails.  The mill will slide across the surface of the log.  As you cut the log, slab by slab, you will eventually end up at the pith.  The pith is the center of the log and easily seen when looking at the butt of the log.  During the drying process, the pit will likely split.  I try to make a cut that slices through the center of the pith so that I don’t have a slab that contains the entire pith.  This reduces the chances of a giant split down the middle of that slab.

When you get down to the last remaining section of the log, it may be difficult to cut more slabs without the saw dragging on the ground.  A good solution is to prop one end of the log up on something.  This will give you some extra space, but it will also position the log at a downward angle.  Gravity will serve as your friend and make cutting a whole lot easier.  I will do this when milling smaller, lighter logs.

Drying out your slabs

Unfortunately, you can’t use your slabs right away.   The wood will be way too wet.  You will have to let them dry and acclimate to your climate.  The old tale is to allow one year per inch of thickness.  I find this to be extreme.  I dry my logs in my basement, with a box fan and dehumidifier.  It will take me about a year or so for two inch thick slabs to dry.  You will know that they are dry by comparing the moisture to other wood you have in the same area.  Using a moisture meter, measure the moisture content to wood in your shop that you know is dry (either something that’s been in the space for a really long time or wood that was kiln dried).  Compare that to your slabs.  The slabs need to be about the same content reading before you can work with them.  For example, slabs that dry outdoors in Michigan usually do not drop below 15% moisture.  Logs in my shop will drop to between 8-9%. 

To help your slabs dry evenly, you will want to seal the ends.  You can buy log sealer that is waxy.  You brush it on the ends of the slabs and it stops moisture from exiting out the ends too quickly, which causes cracks. If you don’t want to spend the money, you can also use latex paint.  I find that it works well.

Stack your slabs on a flat surface, elevated off the ground.  If you stack them on distorted surface, they can dry warped.  In between each slab, I use 3/4 or 1 inch thick stickers (wood sticks).  Stickers allow air flow across all surfaces of the slabs.  The thinner your stickers, the slower the drying process.  I know that in my shop, if I use stickers thinner than 3/4 inch I risk mold growing on the slabs.

I hope that this article helps to demystify the chainsaw milling process.  I love to mill logs.  It’s a lot of hard work that I find well work the effort. 

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How to choose and maintain a chain and chain saw bar?

Even a very good, professional tool will delight you with effective work only with high-quality care and proper operation. Otherwise, the saw will quickly become unusable, and the untimely replacement of worn parts of the tool can cause serious injury.

Replace bar and chain on time

The saw set that ensures the performance of the tool is a tire and a chain. They are included with the purchase of the saw. It is better to keep the instructions or remember their characteristics, so that later you can quickly and accurately select a replacement.

If you notice that the cutting speed has decreased, significant efforts are required when working with the tool, and dust has appeared instead of chips, pay attention to the chain. Probably her links have become dull. This could be due to many reasons:

  • Long chain use without replacement

  • Incorrectly set tension

  • Poor quality lubricant

  • Too dense wood

  • Getting under the cutting edge of the earth, metal, glass and other foreign materials

  • Operating errors, such as using the saw without interruption

  • The saw does not meet the specifications of the tool.

Code: 950000564

Saw bar 16″-1.3mm-3/8″ Oregon ORE-160SDEA041

Code: 950000540

3/8″ saw chain 53 links 1.3 mm Oregon

Code: 950000543

Saw chain 3/8″ 57 links 1.3 mm Oregon

Before starting work, it is necessary to check the chain tension, its parameters and the method of adjustment are indicated in the instructions. If the chain is stretched and is more than 2-4 mm apart in the middle of the bar, this moment can be compensated by pulling the bar. When it is extended to the maximum, but the gap could not be eliminated, the chain needs to be replaced.

How to choose a chain

Marking the old chain will help you choose the most suitable option. You can see the main characteristics in the instructions for the saw or on the packaging of the old chain. If you could not find the alphanumeric code, you can choose a replacement yourself.

  1. See what length is indicated on the tire.

  2. Count the number of links on the inside of the chain. This will determine the length of the chain that will need to be replaced.

  3. Determine the pitch (caliber) of the saw set – this is half the distance between adjacent shanks or the distance between three adjacent rivets. The instructions will help you find out the exact value in inches.

    When selecting a headset, the rule applies:
    chain pitch = pitch on the guide bar = pitch on the drive sprocket

  4. The thickness of the groove (cut) in millimeters must match the thickness of the groove on the guide rail.

The elements of the saw set normally wear out at different rates, the rule for replacing elements will help you not to miss the moment:
4 chains – 2 sprockets – 1 tire

Putting a new chain on a heavily worn sprocket and bar will quickly unbalance the system. After all, it is the sprocket that mediates the transmission of torque from the engine to the saw and guide chain.

  1. Before installation, a new chain is immersed in oil for 3-6 hours. During this time, a special composition should replace the conservation, which is applied to the chain before sale.

  2. After installing the chain, be sure to check its tension. Make sure that the chain is at the same time tightly adjacent to the bar and at the same time is freely dragged along it by hand, does not vibrate at the points of contact with the guide.

  3. Let the tool run for 2 minutes at medium speed to distribute the lubricant evenly. Then the saw should cool down, and after that it is recommended to re-tension the chain.

Code: 950000836

Saw chain 3/8″ 46 links 1.3 mm Oregon

Code: 950001843

Chain for saws 3/8″ 50 links 1.3 mm Oregon MULTICUT

Code: 950001849

Chain for saws 0. 325″ 76 links 1.5 mm Oregon

Code: 950001850

Saw chain 3/8″ 52 links 1.1 mm Oregon

How to choose a tire

The tire provides the necessary tension and lubrication of the chain, takes on peak loads at the time of operation. And, of course, over time, it will require replacement. You should not experiment with its length or put a professional or semi-professional tire on a low-power unit. A tire that is too long will force the engine to run at higher RPMs and it will wear out faster. Caution should be taken with tires of unknown manufacturers, as a breakdown at the time of cutting can cause serious injury. It is best to opt for an assortment of trusted brands.

When replacing, you must adhere to the dimensions recommended by the manufacturer. The optimal tire parameters for your chainsaw will be indicated in the instructions.

What do you need to know when choosing chain and bar?

To select an adequate replacement yourself, determine the length of the bar, the size and type of the shank. Most often, this information is indicated directly on the case.

Bar length is the distance from the front of the saw to the rounded tip of the nose of the bar, indicated in inches or millimeters. The longer the bar, the larger the cut diameter.

Shank size and type . The shank is the place where the tire is attached to the saw body; it has a certain shape for different manufacturers. It is important to pay attention to how the holes with a groove for attaching the bar to the studs of the saw body are located. There is also a channel on the bar, which must be aligned with the channel on the saw, to ensure the supply of oil to lubricate the chain during operation.

Code: 950001855

Saw bar 16″-1.3 mm-3/8″ Oregon ORE-160SDEA074

Code: 950001856

Saw bar 15″-1.3mm-0.325″ Oregon

Chain sharpening

It is necessary to carry out work in protective gloves, firmly fixing the saw and putting it on the brake. You can work with a file, a special set (file + fixture) or using a sharpening machine, which will make the process less laborious and provide sharpening with minimal deviations from the norm.

Code: 950001246

Chain sharpener 2002E 220W

Code: 950000829


chain file holder 4.8 mm

Code: 950001105

Grinding disc for chains 3/8PM”-0.325″-1/4 Champion С2023

Code: 713001854

Work gloves GROSS STYLISH shockproof size XL

Regardless of the tool chosen, it is important to consider:

  • Teeth are sharpened from the inside out

  • The minimum sharpening size is determined by the bluntest tooth.

  • The degree of sharpening is determined by special marks made by the manufacturer

  • The tooth to be sharpened is placed in the middle

  • It is necessary to make the same number of movements and apply equal forces to all teeth in order to avoid unevenness.

  • First sharpen the edges, and then equalize the depth gauges.



Best used if the chain is slightly dull

Provides high accuracy, suitable for severely blunt chain

The procedure is started with a round file, smoothly moving it away from you (2-3 times for each tooth).

The machine needs to be set up correctly.

The teeth are sharpened in a row.

The teeth are sharpened through one, so as not to turn the chain over.

To work efficiently and avoid dangerous kickback, your saw must be fully assembled and set up according to the instructions, it must not have loose or badly worn components.